Declan Kidney signalled one very unambiguous changing of the guard at the Aviva Stadium yesterday morning with Jamie Heaslip’s assumption of the armband for the Six Nations and there were intimations of another just down the road in UCD later in the day.
Leo Cullen isn’t going anywhere — yet — but the Leinster leader did celebrate his 35th birthday earlier this month. He is out of contract come the summer and admitted there will be considerable thought given to the future once this weekend’s Heineken Cup business is done with.
“Over the next couple of weeks I will make a decision. There is always a natural break after the group stages. If you are not involved in the international squad there is a week off and then there are no Leinster games for a few weeks. There is a bit more time to have a clear picture.”
Cullen joked that there had been an approach for his services from a club in Federale 2, the fourth tier in France, but self-deprecation has never been successful in disguising the lock’s importance within the Leinster dressing-room and on the pitch.
The Wicklow man has featured 187 times for the province since his debut in 1998 and lifted the Heineken Cup three times and the admittance that he will consider hanging up the boots fed into a news cycle still spinning with the news that Jonathan Sexton may be weighing up a move to France.
With Brian O’Driscoll expected to call a halt to his career post-Lions, and players like Rob Kearney and Mike Ross yet to sign on again beyond the summer, there was just the scintilla of a suggestion that this Leinster team is facing into a pivotal few months after four years of ritual success.
Cullen isn’t so sure.
“Even two years ago it was a very similar situation with guys out of contract and there was talk of who is going to go. I just think it is that time of year.
“It was always the way, even in the old AIL days around April and May and who was going to be moving clubs back then. It is a bit more public now and you get various figures being thrown around.”
It may be that the majority of this year’s squad reports back for pre-season training next August or September but there will be no debating whether or not an era has ended if the reigning champions tumble out of contention in Europe on Sunday.
It will be a weekend sound-tracked by the sound of fingers tapping furiously on calculators but Cullen admitted the bottom line for Leinster was the requirement for five points in Exeter and then hope that other results fall their way.
Easier said than done, of course, but they look to be in decent shape after convincing back-to-back wins over Edinburgh and Scarlets respectively, and the injury list is mercifully short with O’Driscoll training fully for the first time yesterday after turning over an ankle in the RDS last Saturday.
“I would be very confident that he will be available on Saturday,” said head coach Joe Schmidt.
“Structurally, there was nothing wrong at all with the ankle. There was a bit of swelling to be controlled.
“And if you train on an ankle that’s swollen, there tends to be more swelling. So we gave him a bit of time earlier in the week to get past that period. And he trained well today. He’s certainly in the frame for selection.
“Nobody is ruled out at this stage. Apart from the long-term injury guys, everyone else is pretty much in the frame.”
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